The Terminator Soundtrack (Sega CD), Tommy Tallarico, 1993
Discussing Tommy Tallarico’s contribution to video game music can be a frustrating undertaking. On the one hand, there’s no doubt that he has helped to popularise game music like few others artists. His Video Games Live concerts have been a tremendous success, bringing game music to huge live audiences. On top of that, Tallarico has been instrumental in giving game composers better representation in the music industry through the foundation of G.A.N.G. (Game Audio Network Guild).
Unfortunately, for Tallarico the promotion of game music seems to go hand in hand with the promotion of his rock star persona. His claim to be “considered the person most instrumental in changing the game industry from bleeps & bloops to real music” is one example of his outsized claims to fame that are contentious, to say the least. Compounding matters is the fact that the majority of Tallarico’s scores don’t live up to the hype. Starting with the Game Boy conversion of Prince of Persia, Tallarico’s soundtracks usually fall somewhere between average and promising. However, they rarely stand out as classics, despite their at times fantastic sound quality, for example on the Sega Genesis version of Cool Spot.
One exception to the rule is the Terminator soundtrack for the Sega CD – easily Tallarico’s best game score. Again, Tallarico interferes with his claim that The Terminator “was the first game to ever use a live guitar!” That’s a downright ludicrous statement, particularly for someone who said in an interview he got his first job in the game industry because he wore a TurboGrafx-16 shirt. Remember that the TurboGrafx-CD introduced Red Book audio and live instruments to game music all the way back in 1988.
Just focus on the music and it becomes obvious that Tallarico’s song writing skills are absolutely first-rate. What he aims for on the Terminator soundtrack is not so much traditional game underscoring. Instead, Tallarico pens a string of pop/rock songs that just happen to feature no vocals (often enough, the guitar and synth melodies are written such that they could function as vocal melodies, if performed by a singer). It’s an unusual approach, but Tallarico’s exuberance helps him deliver some of Western game music’s best rock tracks.
‘Exuberance’ is not necessarily a term you would readily associate with the Terminator franchise and its trademark sonic signature – Brad Fiedel’s bleak, percussion-heavy scores for the first two Terminator films. Tallarico’s approach is almost the exact emotional opposite (and very different from pretty much any other video game in the Terminator franchise as well). Listen to “This Way”, which kicks off with a downright bouncy, happy synth fanfare that could be the playful little cousin to the clarion call that opens Van Halen’s “Jump”. It’s borderline cheesy, but also fantastically catchy and impossible to get out of your head.
And that description applies to pretty much all of Tallarico’s melodies on the Terminator soundtrack. In other words, if you expect his game score to sound like the Terminator movies, you’re in for a disappointment. However, Tallarico’s score feels so inextinguishably uplifting and empowering that it is actually the perfect fit for an action-packed shoot’n’run. Taken on its own terms then, Tallarico’s soundtrack is a resounding success that has the compositional strength to back up its idiosyncratic take on a pre-existing franchise.
That earlier comparison to mid-80s Van Halen gives you an idea of what Tallarico is going for stylistically. This is unabashedly melodic, synth-heavy stadium rock that brings together pop and metal influences. Both sides are in perfect balance throughout the Terminator soundtrack. Tallarico’s searing guitar-shredding and solid riffing add gritty virtuoso energy, while his pop instincts keep the music easily approachable. The icing on this delicious cheesecake is the glossy, flawless album production. It coats everything in a big and shiny sound – a perfect match for this sort of 80s rock bombast.
This sort of music lives and dies on the strength of its melodies and hooks, and Tallarico delivers in spades. In fact, the Terminator soundtrack compares favourably with classics of the 2d shoot’n’run genre like Chris Hülsbeck’s Turrican scores. If you’re having doubts, head to “Destinationz Unknown”, this soundtrack’s piece de resistance. Earlier on the album, “Future Shock” – the score’s most straightforward, chugging riff rocker – had already proven Tallarico’s ability to identify a relatively simple melodic or rhythmic idea that can support a whole composition.
“Destinationz Unknown” takes this approach further, showing Tallarico in perfect control of both song structure and his rock star showmanship. The track’s base is an anthemic, instantly memorable piano motif. It’s the sort of melody REO Speedwagon and Journey built their hit singles on. The motif’s circular nature allows Tallarico to easily layer drums, guitars and synth choir on top of the piano line. The result is a constantly growing composition with irresistible momentum, as it spirals higher and higher towards stadium rock heaven. Another one of Tallarico’s blinding guitar soli tops off the bombastic climax, taking the track to its deliciously overblown conclusion.
Ultimately, there is one claim that Tallarico can very credible make regarding the Terminator soundtrack – it does push Western game music closer to the pop/rock mainstream than any other game score had done before.
This playlist is a curated selection of music from the soundtrack album.
- 01 - Taking to the Air Tommy Tallarico 3:25
- 02 - Future Shock Tommy Tallarico 4:40
- 03 - Destinationz Unknown Tommy Tallarico 5:10
- 04 - This Way Tommy Tallarico 4:09
- 05 - Visions Tommy Tallarico 4:17
- 06 - On Your Side Tommy Tallarico 3:28
- 07 - Metamorphosis Tommy Tallarico 3:38